Young English actress Kate Winslet adds luster and energy to Jude, a bold and generally successful attempt to adapt Thomas Hardy’s final novel, Jude the Obscure, to the bigscreen. Late-19th-century yarn of a country lad’s attempts to better himself, and to hook the seemingly unattainable love of his life, has a vigor and freshness that minimizes the downside of Hardy’s bleakest novel.
By consciously avoiding British frock-movie cliches, and adopting a fluid, almost Gallic approach to the narrative, young Brit helmer Michael Winterbottom has come up with a movie whose closest parallel in filmmaking style is, in fact, Truffaut’s several costume dramas, with their fractured narrative, semi-modern feel and emotional distancing.
The adult Jude (Christopher Eccleston), earnestly studying the classics in his spare time, falls for sexy, come-hither country lass Arabella (Rachel Griffiths). Against the advice of his aunt (June Whitfield), he marries Arabella, who soon ups and leaves him for Australia. Taking control of his life, Jude moves to university town Christminster, where he bumps into Sue (Winslet), a cousin he knows only from photographs. He immediately falls for the feisty, independent-minded young femme.
Scripter Hossein Amini honors the original’s structure but boils down the dialogue into a deliberately unliterary, timeless English. Even at two hours, however, the pic moves at a gallop to pack everything in.
Joseph Bennett’s clever production design, using locations in Edinburgh (reping Christminster), northeast England and New Zealand (for summery Wessex), allows Eduardo Serra’s widescreen camera the freedom to roam rather than rigidly shoot from fixed angles.